BOOK REVIEW: Profs say 'victimhood culture' causing violence

A forthcoming book by two sociology professors contends that victimhood culture is causing a new “moral conflict” across college campuses.

The Rise of Victimhood Culture, to be published next week by Palgrave MacMillan, eschews traditional thinking about campus culture and asserts that conflict arises when “a more traditional culture of dignity” comes into tension with the nascent “culture of victimhood.”

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The more traditional culture of dignity is “conducive to laws and customs that support free speech and debate,” says co-author Jason Manning, a sociology professor at West Virginia University.

In a culture of dignity, people tend to “hold their head up high” in response to insult, Manning told Campus Reform.

“So what if someone talks about you? You still have your dignity. If anything, they're the ones engaging in undignified behavior by being so insulting,” he explained. “As long as it’s mere words, you ought to hold your head up high and go about your day.”

Dignity culture rejects “extreme sensitivity” to insult, which in many ways conflicts with the rise of victimhood culture on college campuses, Manning elaborated.

“Victimhood culture considers offensive words a form of violence and oppression, something that must be remedied by public or administrative action,” Manning said, adding that this new cultural regime is often “antithetical to free speech and conducive to censorship.”

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Manning also argued that victimhood culture is unique because of its relative use of violence compared to other cultures.

While he noted that there are always exceptions, he observed that when college administrators don’t clamp down on speech that students find offensive, some students may feel “justified in committing violence in ‘self-defense.’”

The book was co-authored by Bradley Campbell, a professor at California State University, Los Angeles. Both Campbell and Manning met at the University of Virginia, and wrote their PhD theses under sociologist Donald Black, who also has done work on morality and law.

The idea for the book came in 2013, when a woman in a bathrobe at Oberlin College was mistaken for a member of the Klu Klux Klan. That incident, Campbell told Campus Reform, inspired the duo to look deeper into the campus culture, and they eventually came across the Oberlin Microaggressions website, which documented numerous small slights at the college.

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Campbell soon realized that students’ preoccupation with microaggressions contravened popular wisdom.

“The concern with microaggressions and the reaction to them seemed to reject conventional moral ideals,” he remarked. “Don’t we teach children to ignore slights and insults? Don’t we admire those with thick skin?”

“We thought so” Campbell said, but instead he and Manning determined that victimhood culture’s focus on insults actually parallels more traditional forms of dignity culture, such as honor.

“In what many social sciences have called honor cultures, certain kinds of slights demand an aggressive response,” he explained. “The duel is just one form of violence that might occur in an honor culture, but it illustrates the ideals of these cultures, where men challenge others to regain the honor lost from insults, and others accept the challenge to avoid losing honor.”

The book, which will be published on February 14, is available for pre-order here.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen